The election of 1896 both the Democrats and Republicans put up two very dynamic speakers against each other in a race that will shape much of modern politics going forward… So with all that said, let’s get into it and the Panic of 1893.

    …The Panic of 1893

    Upon reclaiming his title as President of the United States in 1892, Grover Cleveland struggled in his second non-consecutive term when it came to dealing with the economy as the rates on imported goods were increased which led to many non-industrial states hurting massively.

    These actions by the previous administration left the economy falling apart and Grover was getting all of the blame for what most historians called ‘The Panic of 1893’.

    On top of the financial panic sweeping the country, Cleveland’s decision to use the military during the 1894 Pullman Strike not only led to many labour unions despising him, but it also led to the Republicans winning seats in 1894 mid-term elections.

    Realizing he stood little chance of winning another term (which would have been seen as a third term), Grover decided not to run again and his vice president, Adali Stevenson didn’t show much interest either, thereby opening the door for someone new to run in the up-and-coming general election.

    The GOP’s Wizard of Oz

    The Republican Party decided to nominate the former Governor of Ohio, William McKinley for whom the McKinley Tariff was named after and was the inspiration for the magical wizard behind the green curtain in Frank Baurm’s iconic story turned iconic film, The Wizard of Oz. McKinley’s record as a former governor and civil war veteran and his support of high tariffs, business and the Gold Standard aka using gold as the currency, made him look like a good candidate to run for this election.

    McKinley’s running mate in this election was Garret Hobart, who was a businessman and successful politician who became Speaker of the General Assembly and later president of the Senate in his home state of New Jersey.

    So those are the candidates for the GOP as they were we able to pick their nominees pretty easily, Democrats, on the other hand, are going to have some problems picking their candidates… at least at first.

    William Jennings Bryan & The Cross of Gold Speech

    As Grover’s time in office was coming to an end, the Democratic Party much like the country itself was going through some problems as Democrats who supported Cleveland’s policies of the Gold Standard were struggling to get a candidate nominated as other Democrats and even the Populist Party were in support of ‘Free Sliver’ aka using silver as the country’s new currency among other issues.

    This led to some divisions as to whom would be the party’s nominee until a 36-year-old former congressman and attorney from Nebraska named William Jennings Bryan threw his name into the ring. 

    While Bryan was a Democrat, he was more Populist than his contemporaries and this became evident by his legendary speech at the convention known as ‘The Cross of Gold Speech’ where Bryan called for aid to those affected by the economic panic while also attacking the rich monopiles and business corporations that many believed were the cause to the crisis; Perhaps the most well-known part of the speech is when William Jennings Bryan says: “We will answer their demands for a Gold Standard by saying to them, you shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns, you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.” 

    The reaction to Bryan’s speech was so thunderous that the delegates in the convention grabbed the Nebraskan politician on their shoulders and carried him out like his was a conquering hero or a football star who just won the Superbowl for his team.

    As you can imagine from this reception, Bryan got the party’s nomination with his running mate being Arthur Sewell who was a shipbuilder from Maine; The newly created Sliver Party also endorsed William Jennings Bryan as well as the Populist Party, but the Populists chose Thomas Watson a former U.S. Representative from Georgia as his running mate instead of Sewell.

    The National Democratic Party aka Gold Democrats

    Despite William Jennings Bryan winning the nomination, a number of Democrats were against him and his populist ideals to the point where they created a new political party. This new party was called ‘The National Democratic Party’ also known as Gold Democrats as they supported many of the policies of former president Grover Cleveland especially the Gold Standard.

    These Gold Democrats nominated the Senator from Illinois, John Palmer for president with Simon Buckner the Governor of Kentucky as his running mate.  While both Palmer and Buckner did a lot of speaking tours in during the election, many Americans refused to take the Gold Democrats and their candidates seriously due to the fact that Palmer was 79 years old and Buckner was 73, which made the two politicians the oldest ticket to run for president and vice president in U.S. history.

    There were a few more third parties who ran in this election, but for the sake of time and the fact they won’t being doing too good in this race, will be skipping past them and going right into the campaigns.

    Campaigns and Financing 

    The issue over the economy as well as the fight over gold or silver being used as currency dominated the election with McKinley supporting the Gold Standard and Bryan supporting Free Sliver.

    Bryan’s strategy in this race saw him traveling to all over country trying to get his populist message out to the masses, in fact Bryan gave so many speeches leading into the election that his voice started to sound very horsed, but he jokily remarked that he left his real voice in the previous areas in order to keep firing up the public.

    The charismatic orator was also collecting donations to his campaign from businesses as well as regular folk who supported the free silver idea and the story goes that he was even collecting this money into a hat.

    William McKinley for his part, decided to stay at home whilst using the front porch strategy that was popularized by James Garfield and Benjamin Harrison; In addition to McKinley giving speeches from the comfort of his porch, Republicans are also using parades and pamphlets to further spread his message across the country, but even with all of that the former governor of Ohio still has one last card up his sleeve to play.

    Mark Hanna: McKinley’s Ace

    The Chairman of the Republican National Committee, Mark Hanna was William McKinley’s friend and campaign advisor during this election and his goal during the race is to go to all of the business communities to get millions upon millions of dollars in campaign donations for his man while also convincing many of them to support McKinley, who’s in favour of big business.

    Hanna’s strategy of getting donations from major corporations was successful as the McKinley team outspent the Bryan team when it came to promoting their candidate and this strategy has become the standard bearer for how to finance political campaigns ever since.

    Bryan’s talk of free silver didn’t resonate well with many factory and industrial workers who would be hurt by the inflation caused by using silver as currency and many businesses were cautious in supporting a religious fanatic and anti-capitalist…now that we’ve gone over all of that, it’s time to go over the results. 

    The Results

    Since the last election, the state of Utah officially became a part of the Union, and they were allowed to vote to mean that the number of electoral votes needed to win in this race is 224 or more. While the electoral map makes it look like the race was a close one, in reality, it wasn’t as William McKinley became the 25th president of the United States with 271 electoral votes and 51% of the popular vote. 

    William Jennings Bryan received 176 electoral votes and 46.7% of the popular vote while John Palmer and the Gold Democrats came in third with no electoral votes and got just under 1% of the popular vote.

    This election is important in the grand scheme of things not just for Mark Hanna’s strategy of getting donations from corporations but it’s also important because many of the populist views Bryan spoke about in this election would soon take over the Democratic Party going forward.

    So that was the election of 1896, the Republicans are back in the White House and William McKinley has got four years to clean up the mess that is the Panic of 1893, can he get it done in time before the election of 1900? Will just have to wait and see.

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